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Board of Trustees delays spending $1 billion from energy partnership for university endowments, wants further discussion

Hartmann and Drake

Engie CFO Judith Hartmann shakes hands with Ohio State President Michael Drake in a Tuesday meeting announcing the first of Engie and Axium’s financial contributions to the university. Credit: Matt Dorsey | Engagement Editor

The Ohio State Board of Trustees delayed a vote Thursday to approve four proposals that sought to allocate the $1 billion energy partnership deal into endowments for faculty and students.

The proposals were delayed because members felt the decision for allocation did not sufficiently include input from the Board. Board member John Zeiger said he had only recently learned about the proposal before it was introduced during the Finance committee meeting.

“It seems to me, part of this is a Board process issue,” Zeiger said. “I, for one, would like to have the Board on the front end of some of this decision-making instead of at the back end.”

Board member Alex Fischer compared the lack of Board participation in these proposals to the lack of information provided before the university announced its plans to cover student tuition for low- and middle-income students through its expansion of Pell Grant coverage.

“We had somehow doubled without any Board discussion,” Fischer said.

Fischer questioned how the decisions were made, what took priority and how the amount was chosen.

Chief Financial Officer Geoff Chatas said he made the decision to split the funds with University President Michael Drake and Bruce McPheron, the university’s executive vice president and provost.

“We spent about six months looking at the various uses and discussions with various leaders and working along with [the] strategic planning process,” Chatas said.

When the university announced its energy privatization partnership with Engie-Axium in March, part of the deal included the allocation of $1 billion to university initiatives.

The proposals suggest the money from the deal would be split into four endowments, as well as a $250 million fund for ongoing university projects including construction.

Each endowment would have its own purpose – a $280 million need-based student scholarship fund that includes tuition for Pell Grant eligible students; a $210 million fund available for faculty and staff development; a fund of $210 million to facilitate operational costs of new buildings funded through Ohio State Energy Partners; and $43 million will be given to an already-existing energy stabilization fund, used to cover any increase of energy cost.

Since there was no urgency to pass the resolutions Thursday, the proposals could be pushed to the next meeting in April for more discussion, said Michael Gasser, chair of the Finance Committee.

“Why don’t we consider that [the resolution] might come back with a more holistic explanation of how the money got allocated the way it did,” Gasser said. “I think [it] will give members a little bit more comfort.”

In the meantime, Chatas said incoming Pell Grant students will still receive tuition through the $11 million that has already been given.

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